Monday, February 18, 2008

Presidents Day

Today is Presidents' Day, a public holiday originally marked as the celebration of George Washington's birthday but now a commemoration of all of America's presidents.

George Washington, the first president, was born on February 22, 1732, by our modern calendar. But in those old days his birthday would have fallen on February 11. Celebration of his birthday was first held in 1796, the final full year of his presidency. This was marked by public events including Birthnight Balls.

Soon afterwards in 1865, a year after Abraham Lincoln's assassination, some states began to also celebrate Lincoln's birthday on February 12.

By 1971 a law came into effect standardising the holiday, which is officially known as Washington's Birthday, to the third Monday in February. But there is variation among states as to how they honour the day. Some call it 'Washington and Lincoln Day' and in Massachusetts there is emphasis on presidents who have emanated from there, the most famous being John F. Kennedy and George HW Bush who was born there.

Alabama chooses to celebrate 'Washington and Jefferson Day'.

On the event of Washington's 200th birthday in 1932, America's first military medal for ordinary soldiers was revived. Named the Purple Heart, it is an award for soldiers injured in battle.

This year, George Bush senior chose it as the day to announce his support for Republican candidate John McCain.

His son, George W. Bush, is America's 42nd president, but is counted as serving for the 43rd presidency. This is because a man called Grover Cleveland was elected twice in non-consecutive terms in 1885 and 1893.

Today not all businesses take a public holiday but stores use it as one of their major sales days.

Here in San Fran, temperatures have been in the lower 50s with overcast skies for much of the day.

Happy President's Day!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Super Tuesday Election

As the world knows, Hillary Clinton won overall in California over her Democrat rival Barack Obama on 'Super Tuesday', but fewer may realise that Obama won in San Francisco.

For the Republicans, Senator John McCain was victor in California.

Obama's support in the Primary, according to exit polls, was from African Americans, white men and independents, and he also narrowly carried a higher vote from wealthier families earning over $100,000 a year.

But California is dubbed 'Clinton country', and throughout the state Hillary Clinton triumphed with women, Latinos, Asian-Americans, gays and lesbians, older voters over the age of 60 years, young people between the ages of 18 - 24 years and the working classes.

For the first time in a presidential election the Latino vote has a strong influence and Hillary has benefited from her contacts with them during her years in the White House with husband, Bill. Political pundits say that Obama on the other hand has had to introduce himself to voters and combat racial prejudice from this ethnic group, reports the San Fran Chronicle.

The November election could definitely turn into a competition for Latino votes, Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, is quoted as saying.

'As we go into the general election campaign, both candidates will move to the center, which is where most Latinos are, and it could be a real battleground.'

Another winning factor for Hillary though was her strategy to woo voters via cell phones. During the final weekend, her team made 2 million calls and another million on Super Tuesday itself.

What did San Franciscan's think? One lady said she had a friend who lived in Arkansas during the 'Clinton years'.

'The Clintons are something else!' she said with a raise of the eyebrows and shake of the head. 'Hillary is very controlling.'

Another resident was cynical about the whole procedure. The media have the controlling hand, he said. In his view, they had picked out Hillary Clinton and Obama as the front runners and had concentrated publicity on them.

He was particularly aggrieved at the lack of media space given to Republican Ron Paul, a self-styled 'libertarian' who was attracting young conservatives with a policy of 'small government' ie reduced state involvement and taxes in people's lives.

The closeness of the contest has certainly gripped people. A news item on NBC tonight showed a resurgence of college students wanting to engage in politics.

Perhaps one of the best summaries in the Chronicle is from a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Standford University. Victor Davis Hanson of Tribune Media Services said:

'In this crazy year, the election may finally come down to how many Democrats - scared that they don't know enough about Obama, or know too much about the Clintons - will vote for a veteran pro like McCain. Or, on the flip side, how many "true" conservatives will stay home in November to ensure a liberal wins the White House just to prove their purity.'

Officials are still counting absentee ballots and have estimated that more than 1 million may have been submitted.